Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Fruit Bowl Full of Kiwi Self-Publishers.

One thing that really annoys the snot out of me is when someone from a different country calls kiwifruit a 'kiwi'. I live in New Zealand, in case you hadn't figured that out, and you see, our national bird is a flightless, podgy little bird called the Kiwi. As a country, we spend thousands of dollars a year to keep this little podgy bird from going extinct. I think that kiwi fruit must have been given its name after this bird because it looks kind of like a brown podgy thing (they used to be called Chinese gooseberry).

'Kiwi' is also what native New Zealanders call themselves. Its an identity thing, something we take pride in. Our number-eight-wire, kiwi ingenuity thinking – we love it, its who we are. We're a small, young country, not often taken seriously, until we invent the electric fence, the jet boat, the disposable hypodermic syringe, or the eggbeater (who knew!)

But it's been amazing what we have produced as writers and authors from this nation. Did you know that Lynley Dodd's series of books called 'Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy' is still found on the top sellers lists around the world? At the moment on Book Depository, her first title in the series is beating the Graffalo, The Rainbow Fish, Brown Bear, and even Diary of a Wimpy Kid in the best-sellers lists. Now that's something!

I love that us Kiwis are taking on the world! Did you know that two major publishing houses have moved their operations off shore because the self-publishing industry and the digital ebook has changed the way many Kiwis buy books. And because we were such a small market to begin with, there's not enough money keeping them in NZ any longer. The ones that are staying are now merging, some with vanity publishing houses to encourage the indie author to spend heaps of money on their own print runs (which is a stupid idea, so please don't do it!)

This is forcing the previously traditional-published author into self-publishing, reinforcing the indie-market and forcing more publishing houses to move off-shore. Its almost self-perpetuating. The market is too small, and now is even smaller, so the big guns move on, forcing the established authors and writers to self-publish. Its an exciting time really! As these established and new-to-self-publishing authors are coming out of the woodwork, it's paving a way for more Kiwis like you and me to learn about this emerging industry and get on board for the ride.

And Kiwis are self-publishing some fantastic works! Just this last week at the New Zealand Children's Book Awards Ted Dawe's 'Into the River' was named the Margaret Mahy book of the year. The top spot – the top award. It was self-published by Ted under the publishing house Mangakino University Press. So, self-publishing is making waves in and from this small country of ours.

What a great time to be a Kiwi aye?!!!

Copyright Law in NZ - Legal and Financial Issues Part One.

Goodness, what a week!  It's been amazing how much response I've had from this new blog, and I've now got a few more new clients as a result.  It all works together with my other marketing endeavours, but wow – so much time goes into it all!
Today we start looking at the Legal and Financial Issues with self-publishing from NZ.  Please be reminded that I am not a professional (hense the crap writing style!) and I am not trained formally in the art of self-publishing – but who is these days???  Neither am I a financial, tax or legal advisor.  Good, glad we got that cleared up.  [Ergo, this is not legal advice – follow at your own risk.]
This post is the start of looking at what you need to think about before you start publishing online.  We will cover things like Copyright, Royalty-free, Common/Public Domain Material, and Digital Rights Management (DRM) – as this is pertaining to all of this.
Ok, so Copyright.  What is Copyright?
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time.  Generally, it is "the right to copy", but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other related rights.
What does that mean?  It means you can't use any works, writing, pictures, illustrations, or any sort of media that does not belong to you without the express written permission from the original artist – the person who created that work, or the person who owns that work – has purchased the rights to it.  If you do use works without permission, you are in breach of copyright laws in NZ and many countries around the world.  You can be charged, taken to court, and be made to pay HEAPS of money.  OUCH!
So, if you are writing a picture book, you have to have permission from your illustrator to use their illustrations (if you haven't outright purchased them).  If you are writing a blog, any picture you post, you need permission to use it.  If you are adding an image to your story, you need to ask the person who took that photo for permission to use that image.  It's not enough just to ask the person whose photo was taken, you need to ask the photographer if you can use their image as it belongs to them.  Using someone else's copyright material without permission is stealing, and to me it feels a little like eating gum off the footpath – regurgitated and sloppy!
If you use a pic from someone else's blog or article thinking they have permission to use that pic, you could be liable.  You can't just say, 'But they used it and I thought that I could use it too.'  You need permission from the copyright owner.  This is why I have a major problem with Pinterest – nobody is taking responsibility for the copyright infringement, even Pinterest itself.  You signed up saying you would take responsibility for the copyright of each and every image you re-pin and use.  EVERY re-pined image!  Bummer if you didn't check out the facts before you re-pinned and got done for it, aye?!!!
I use royalty free stock images from Stock.xchng and cite the photographer as requested.  I have also used images from NASA's website as they are royalty free or in the public domain.  NASA requires that I state where the images were found using their exact wording in the copyright pages of my ebooks.  I used only space images from this NASA site so I wasn't in breach of someone else's copyright.
Royalty-free, or RF, refers to the right to use copyrighted material or intellectual property without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use or per volume sold, or some time period of use or sales.
Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable.
My ebook Rocket Boy Twinkle Star is the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star song illustrated with images of the stars from NASA's website.  The whole book is material from common or public domain and as a result, when publishing this kids ebook I was asked to 'Verify Your Publishing Rights'.  I had to tick that the ebook was public domain work.  As a result I was not able to enter this ebook into the Kindle Select Programme for lending through the Kindle Owners Lending Library, AND I was only allowed to receive 35% royalties on any sales, no matter how I priced the ebook.
Digital Rights Management, or commonly called DRM, is a tricky subject.  There is a bit of political hoo-haa around this issue, and most of the IT world hates it, including my wonderful and amazing IT hubby whom I love very much!  (Please don't rant, please don't rant, please don't rant...)
Digital rights management (DRM) is a class of controversial technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders, and individuals with the intent to control the use of digital content and devices after sale; there are, however, many competing definitions.  With First-generation DRM software, the intent is to control copying while Second-generation DRM schemes seek to control viewing, copying, printing, and altering of works or devices.  The term is also sometimes referred to as copy protection, copy prevention, and copy control, although the correctness of doing so is disputed.
When publishing a new ebook on Amazon, you will be asked: 'Select a digital rights management (DRM) option.'  They give you the option and explain what DRM is for those who don't know.  They state that some authors choose not to have DRM but those who do can still lend their ebook.  Once you have published the ebook you can't undo this option.  More here:
Our philosophy is that because we don't mind giving away copies of our ebooks for promotional purposes, then we don't really mind who ends up with our ebooks.  What we are not so keen on is if someone steals our ebooks and sells them for their own profit – NOT OK!  I'm sure it's more philosophical than this for my genius hubby (please don't rant) but I warn you, if you ask him he will get very animated and his voice will go all squeaky!
I often search an image of my cover on Google Images to see where it pops up, just in case it's been stolen and is being sold on some dodgy online ebook retailer in some crazy country that has really terrible copyright laws.
So, the moral of the story is, Copyright protects the owner of the art, writing, picture, music, tv, etc; it's important to get permission to use someone else's material, or you can use royalty-free or public domain material.  DRM is crazy but you have a choice.  So – don't steal, don't cheat, and don't eat someone else's footpath gum!
More information on Banking and International Cheques, Withholding Tax and US Tax Numbers, Self-Publishing Contracts, and Working with Contractors in our next Legal and Financial Issues post.
If you have any further questions, please comment below or email us from the contacts tab above.
Peace and Love ~ Joy

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Interview with Kiwi Self-Publisher Jay Baker.

Hi Jay, thank you for taking your time to answer a few questions for our blog 'Confessions of a Kiwi Self-Publisher'. For those who don't know you, can you please give us a brief intro and tell us about what books you have published?
I've published just the one book, titled 'Mr. Something'.  It is a new take on the superhero story, set in the real world where physics still apply and there are no super-villains.  Our hero is left trying to solve real-world problems – in this case, the problem of extreme poverty, which kills more people each day than most super-villains could aspire to.  It's a fairly fast-paced action/adventure story, but with a solid grounding in real world issues, and some solutions that might surprise you.
You got yourself an agent and tried to pitch Mr. Something to a number of publishing houses here in NZ, but because of its unusual themes it wasn't picked up.  Will you tell us about this please?
I actually managed to get signed up to an agent in New York, and the book was pitched to all the big publishing houses over there – but with no luck, unfortunately.  The general consensus seemed to be that they liked the story and the writing, but I needed to get rid of the bits about poverty.  It was suggested that I do a re-write, but the poverty aspect was really the core of the story, not an add-on which could be removed.  The story wouldn't have made any sort of sense without it.
What made you decide to self-publish and why did you choose to use CreateSpace?
It got to the point where is was self publish, or give up altogether – and I figured it was better to have some readers than none.  I chose CreateSpace after researching a bunch of similar services – they seemed best in price and ease of use, plus they integrate really well with Amazon, so it's easy for people to find it.
One thing to be careful with for new authors... just because you can self publish, doesn't mean you should – yet.  Make sure your manuscript has been edited, and re-edited, and proofread by several other (impartial) people, then re-edited another few times... before you even consider going to print.  It's painful, but worth it.
Did you use a professional editor for your book?
My mother (Wendy Baker) has written a couple of books herself, so she helped a lot with the first few edits.  I also got a lot of feedback from my agent, so ended up not needing to pay a professional editor.
How did you find the process with working with CreateSpace?
Great.  They are very easy to work with, well priced, and the finished product comes out looking really nice.  And up-front costs are very low – because it is print-on-demand, books are only printed when people order them, so you don't have to buy a whole stack and hope they sell.
Did you use CreateSpace for a cover design?
No – I sketched up the cover idea myself (very badly), and my wife turned it into an actual image for me.  She also did the chapter title graphics for me.  And I'm really happy with the result – I think it looks great.
Does your wife, Booke, offer cover design services for authors who self-publish?  How can we get in contact with her please?
She would love to – try her on
Doing it all over again, what would you change, what would you do better, and what would you keep in the whole experience?
The self publishing experience worked well for me.  I ended up with a book I'm really happy with, in both paperback and ebook formats (using for the ebook).  The biggest problem with self-publishing is that it is very hard to get any attention for your book – it seems you need to put as much effort into marketing your book as you did into writing it, and that can get expensive (not to mention requiring a whole different set of skills).  So better marketing would definitely be a priority, if I was doing it again.  As part of that, I might change the title – people seem to have trouble remembering 'Mr. Something' (it gets called 'Mr. Somebody' a lot).
For those who haven't already read Jay's book Mr Something, you can find it on Amazon here:
Jay's author page is found here:  Go and say hello and give him some support.
~ Joy Findlay

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Before the nitty-gritty of self-publishing. . .

I was going to start on the material for the 'So you want to self-publish' as featured in last week's first ever post. However I've realised there is a step missing that every writer/author/illustrator and self-pubbie needs to take before getting into the nitty-gritty of self-publishing. Interestingly enough, it's the first question I've asked quite a few new self-publishers over the last few months.
The answer to this question gives you an idea of what direction you will want to take. If you are publishing your book because you'd love to see it printed and sitting on your book shelf in the foyer next to Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis and Agatha Christie, then print on demand will be a great path to take. If you want to get your story told, and present it to the universe or as much of it as you can, then using a platform like Smashwords is a great way to go as it deals with all the major online retailers. If you love your quirky story and want to sell it in independent bookstores in NZ and Australia, then Vanity Publishing will work for you – although is costly and very time consuming. If you want to publish a story and make as much money as you possibly can – in my opinion – you need to publish on Amazon and use their Kindle Select Programme.
Here are some Wiki definitions of each of the ways to publish:
A vanity press or vanity publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published.
Print on demand (POD) is a printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received, which means books can be printed one at a time.
Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. A self-published physical book is said to be privately printed. The author is responsible for, and in control of, the entire process, including design (cover/interior), formats, price, distribution, marketing & PR. The authors can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services.
Smashwords ( is a self-serve publishing service. Authors upload their manuscripts as Microsoft Word files to the Smashwords service, which converts the files into multiple ebook formats for reading on various ebook reading devices. Once published, the books are made available for sale online at a price set by the author. More on Smashwords here:
Kindle Direct Publishing ( concurrently with the Kindle device, Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing, where authors and publishers independently publish their books directly to Kindle and Kindle Apps worldwide. More information on Kindle Direct Publishing here:
Amazon Kindle is the largest ebook retailer, with the largest market – while things like the Kindle Select Program may seem limiting your audience by restricting you to the one retailer, it usually results in more exposure than any of the rest (possibly even more than all the others combined).
This is just a brief description of each of these avenues for publishing. We will go into more detail on each of these in more depth later on, in the topic 'Understanding your Market'.
So have a think about what you want to do with your story then take that path to the end. No matter what you do – how you publish, you and you alone are responsible for the marketing and sales of your book. Building your author platform is paramount – even before you have published. No platform = no sales.
So, what do you want to do with your book? Where do you want to take it? What is important to you as an author? Once you have answered these questions then you can begin your self-publishing journey.
All the best,
~ Joy

Building Petal the Owl's Marketing Platform.

A brief post on self-marketing.

I've learned the hard way how difficult it is to market your publications. Ebooks are a relatively new market and kids' ebooks even more so. But in the 18 months that I've been selling them online, the number of kids ebooks being sold on Amazon has more than doubled. Being featured in the top 100 was a normal occurance to me late last year, but now it's harder and harder to get books in those lists and even harder to keep them there without a million people giving great reviews. So I've resorted to cross-advertising with another company that makes and sells plush toys.
Ok – lets back up back a bit.
It is essential for every author – self-published/traditionally published/not-published-yet – to build their platform. What is a platform and what does that mean for self-publishers? According to 'The “author platform” is a fancy buzzword folks in the book business use to talk about an author's fan engagement, their social media and web presence, the size and dedication of their readership, and their connectedness to other authors, bloggers, critics, agents, publicists, publishers, etc.' ~
Without it, how are you going to find readers? How are you going to find support? How are you going to sell your ebooks? How are you going to learn what works and what doesn't? How are you going to learn and better your trade skills? How are you going to keep yourself from going nuts, spending hours/days/weeks/months talking to your imaginary friends like they exist in real life?
At the beginning it was scary to think about how I was going to market my products. I set up a website, which is my biggest source of sales even though it just sits there doing nothing! I set up a Twitter account – even though I'd vowed I'd never go there! I set up a Facebook page, and a Goodreads and Google+ account. I then liked a million other Facebook pages, followed a million other Twitter accounts, and checked out a million other authors' pages. I started a blog – well, a news link really – for my website and guest-spoke on a million other blogs, and I think that it has worked for me, just not in the way that I first expected. 
I don't sell many more books with this marketing platform. It really doesn't help much at all, but what it has helped with is networking and connecting with other writers and self-publishers. It's given me a better understanding of the self-publishing world out there, and it's helped me learn my trade in a greater way than I ever thought possible. I have to admit though – it is a bit of a time-waster. I think I spend more time on Facebook than actually writing each week - just, please, don't tell the hubby that! [Ed: then she gets me to edit this post...!]
So now I am trying something new – merchandise. I've connected with Joanne from Night Owl Creations. She hand-makes plush toy owls and other gorgeous items for kids and mamas. We're doing a facebook giveaway for the month, giving away Petal the Owl and Petal's Mama toys along with all eight Petal the Owl ebooks that I have written and illustrated.
At first I thought this would be a great way to trial run an in-ebook advertising scheme, until I learned that its against Kindle publishing rules to advertise other products or services in ebooks. So we have had to get creative on how to work within the terms and conditions. I think it will work really well.
What I'm hoping is that Joanne will have an increase in traffic to her sites and her sales will go up. I don't know if it will work, but we're trying it out. I don't expect to get many more sales out of it for myself, but I am enjoying working with another local business to see if ebooks will help her profits.
And to be honest – it might just be an excuse to turn a well-loved character into a plushy toy so I can cuddle her. Whaaat??? Some people get a kick out of seeing their books printed and sitting on their own book shelves – I so happen to like plush toys!!! Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes.
So, if this is a new concept to you – get started. Learn how to market on social networking sites, get a website, or at the very least get a blog – they are free. Check out groups of writers in your local areas – NZ Society of Authors is a good place to start. Find other authors, interview each other on your blogs and take a 'blog tour' round each blog. Its fun, creative and gets your name out there.
For more information on building your platform, check out the links page to this blog for more sites to visit on the subject. There are heaps out there, but ultimately you have to work out what works for you. I know of one indie author who pays for 100 copies of her books to be printed, so she can give them to dedicated pre-release readers for the express purpose of gaining reviews on each of her books before she launches them. It's a great way to start the life of your book online, especially if you have 80 reviews already in place! So, how long do you think it will take you to build your platform to the point of having 100 dedicated fans who would jump at the chance of a free pre-release copy of your next book for reviewing???

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Huge as in stuffed roasted moa!

This is Bevan and I, last summer, Christmas Day actually. We'd probably stuffed ourselves stupid then took to taking photos in the garden. This was also the day that Petal's First Winter sat at number one in its categories on Amazon's Kindle Store. It was a huge day for us, we'd finally made it! We were number one in the world and it was thrilling! Then a book titled Stinky Dinky took the spot the next day and we watched Petal float round the top twenty for the next month. But that moment when we'd made that top spot - there was nothing else like it really. And having one kids ebook in the top 20 meant that all of our other ebooks were selling really well. I think over that summer, the most at one time we had in the top 100 was about 29 ebooks. THAT IS HUGE!
When we went camping in Algies Bay over New Years, I had to tote my laptop and camping chair down the hillside twice a day to the wireless hotspot at the camp just so I could catalogue the sales and borrows. I made thousands in two-and-a-half weeks over December, and a few more in January. It was a really, REALLY good summer for us.
Things have changed so much in the 18 months that we have been selling kids ebooks on Amazon. We started out following the trend to sell the books at USD$2.99 so we could make 70% royalties and it worked really well for us too until the September Slump hit. What is the September Slump you ask? Its when the Northern Hemisphere go on vacation without their wireless and stop buying ebooks of any kind. August was slowing down for us, but when September hit I'd felt like my new business was about to fold before we'd even started. It forced me to go hunting on the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Community forums for answers. And I got them too - the same thing happened last summer. So I waited it out and planned a pre-christmas pricing change, lowering all my ebooks that weren't a compilation to USD$0.99. That worked for a while until a technical glitch dumped all bar 3 of my 45 titles out of their categories. It took a million emails to their technical department, when finally a month later my ebooks were back where they belonged. But during that time, I sold about 10 ebooks a week because no one could find them. I couldn't use my 'free' promotional days while on the Kindle Select Programme, and I ended up asking God to sort it out 'coz I couldn't. Mid November things were back on track and by early December they were selling again but very slowly, until the week before Christmas I had a few 'free' promotions happening, then BAM! They started selling faster than beach jandles on a hot summer's day. And what a rush.
So what did I learn from all of this? Firstly I learned that pricing matters - and its changing every month. Actually it's very rare to get books staying in the top 20 of the children's categories that are priced over USD$0.99 now. Secondly, it takes at least a month for the technical department at KDP to sort any technical glitch out. Thirdly, the big publishing houses can't match the USD$0.99 prices - yet. Fourthly, hang on, I know there's a fourthly. . . Fourthly, books don't sell so well when America goes on vacation, so don't sweat it! And, Fifthly, Christmas and New Years is the BIGGEST selling season for children's digital content. And I mean biggest - like huge, huge as in stuffed roasted moa huge.
So that's it for me this week. I'm off to publish another title - Petal's Autumn Change (or Petal's Fall Change for the .com store). So look out for its free promo, sometime soon.
Enjoy writing and reading to your own little squidlettes.
~ Joy Findlay

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

So you want to self-publish!

Important things to do before you self-publish your first book.
Whether you are publishing a Print on Demand (PoD) book, an online ebook, or publishing through a vanity publisher, this list of things to do before you self-publish is really important, and is cross-genre. If you publish a children's book or a novel, you will still need to understand these important issues with self-publishing world wide from New Zealand.
Grouped into five categories, we will take a look at each area over the next month to get a better handle on things. These five categories include: Legal and Financial Issues, Understanding your Market, Building your Platform, Creating Great Content, and The Technical Stuff.
Bevan and I have been publishing for over a year now and have learned a lot over that time. By no means do we know everything, nor are we experts in this field. Bevan had spent 10 years working in IT support and is currently training to be a Civil Engineer. I have spent 10 years working with Video and TV production in NZ and Hong Kong, so as you can see, our backgrounds do not warrant us being experts in self-publishing at all. But together we have published over 60 children's ebooks and what we have learned is worth passing on.
So in a sense we are still learning in this field, and it is our desire to help you and give you a hand in publishing your own creative works. Feel free to add to or ask about anything we post here. These posts will stay up on our forums for anyone to read and re-post. We just ask that you cite us as the copyright owners and our websites: and
So if you are based in New Zealand (NZ), have published or are interested in self-publishing, or are interested in working with an author to publish (e.g. you're an illustrator) then this is a great place to start your journey to self-publishing. Please keep in mind that this is all written from our experience and as neither Bevan or myself have done any formal training in ebook authoring or self-publishing, nor have we been to university to study art and literature, we do apologise if our format or our wording isn't formal enough – we are teaching from experience.
So you want to publish a book? Well you have come to a right place.
We have five topics, or five categories to teach everything you need to know about self-publishing – and then some! If we leave anything out, please leave comments and ask questions and we'll get back to you.
Legal and Financial Issues. This category teaches what legal and financial things you will need to do before you start publishing. It will cover copyright, DRM, common/public domain material, banking, accounts, taxes, contracts, and royalty payments from NZ sales. We'll also look at selling overseas and the implications of that on things like tax and royalty payments, getting paid from overseas and the options available, and how to pay your illustrator, etc.
Understanding your Market. This is a basic teaching on genre, marketing, professionalism, different types of publishing and how they all work. This will include different ways for getting your story published here in NZ, and a look at what are the best options for publishing overseas. We'll look at how the different ways to publish affect the way you market your books and we'll explore other mediums for publishing – like book apps.
Building your Platform. This will cover the stuff you need to do that helps you sell your books, no matter what format or retailer you use. If you don't have a platform to sell from, then you won't sell books. This will include retailers in NZ and overseas, social networking, and author's forums.
Creating Great Content. This section is all about creating a story that others will want to read, and creating everything else that will go with it to help sell the book. This will include: getting the story down, working and reworking the story, using a professional editor, creating a great blurb/description, designing the cover, creating an author's bio and much more.
The Technical Stuff. Because there are a few different ways to publish your story, this section goes into a bit more detail on how this is done. Knowing the technical stuff is what will allow you publish your story in different formats – e.g. what does it mean to use a vanity publisher? What is needed to publish as an ebook? What is an ISBN number and how do I get one? What is the fastest way to get my book up online without losing most of my royalties? What do I do if I want to get my ebook printed?
So this is just a brief look at what we will cover in the next few weeks. If you have other questions that you want answered, then please ask us. Some of these topics require a lot of explaination ie Withholding Tax, and others will just be a skim over as we will assume you know most of the stuff anyway – like writing for different genres.
We'll post links to different articles, blogs, forums and research material and we'll do our bestest (yes this is a word!) to include what we think you need to know before you begin publishing.
All the best for your self-publishing journey!
~ Joy Findlay and Bevan Findlay ~